New York City’s First Lady Chirlane McCray’s is undergoing intense criticism after deciding to snub Saint Frances Cabrini who won a citywide poll of candidates for the “She Built NYC” statue program. The city opted to honor other women instead, such as a black jazz singer, an LGBTQ advocate and a Latina desegregation activist.
According to Fox News, the city of New York polled its citizens for their input in picking seven women to honor for their historical significance to the city with the erection of a statue. Of all the candidates submitted, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be named a saint, received the most votes.
It would seem to be a likely choice. Mother Cabrini devoted her entire adult life to establishing orphanages, schools and a hospital in New York City while batting both ecclesiastical and ethnic prejudices in order to carry out her mission to Italian immigrants. In total, she built 67 institutions to help the needy.
However, this track record was not enough for the committee, organized by Chirlane McCray, the wife of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio,who opted to ignore the resident’s pick and chose jazz legend Billie Holliday, Dr. Helen Rodriquez Trias, a Latina and desegregation activist, and LGBTQ advocate Sylvia Rivera, among others, for the honor instead.
The snub received instant condemnation from the populatoin, from actor Actor Chazz Palminteri who accused McCray of being “racist” for not picking Cabrini to Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio who called the decision “incongruous.”
“It seems incongruous that after a public information campaign began for ‘She Built NYC’ to nominate women for statues to be erected in the City of New York, since women are unrepresented in our statuary, that the woman who received the most votes, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, was not chosen as worthy to be honored for her contribution to our City,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“Mother Frances Cabrini was certainly one of the women who built New York City. Her work to establish orphanages, schools, and a hospital, along with her commitment to immigrants, absolutely should be recognized. The failure to honor Mother Cabrini with a public statue would be an affront to many New Yorkers, especially Italian-Americans, who see her as most deserving.”
The Italian-American community in the city is understandably outraged by the decision.
“We are against the decision of the mayor and his wife to promote another person for the statue after Mother Cabrini was elected by the people of New York,” said Deacon Carlos Martinez of All Saints Parish in Brooklyn to the New York Post. “They are pushing down the Italian Catholic community to lift someone else up.”
“That’s a disgrace,” said Connie Gessler, who said Cabrini taught her grandmother. “Why did they have an election if they weren’t going to give one to the person with the most votes? How would she like it if we didn’t make her husband mayor if he got the most votes.”
The snub did little more than rally Catholics in the city to express their outrage in tangible and yet peaceful ways.
For example, Bishop DiMarzio organized a procession and Mass in honor of Mother Cabrini on Sunday, October 6, which was attended by overflow crowds. More than a thousand parishioners packed the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary and St. Stephen’s church to honor the woman who did so much to help the poor in New York City.
The diocese is also planning to honor the saint in the upcoming Columbus Day parade where a float containing a statue of Mother Cabrini will parade down the streets of New York, “so that all those watching the parade will plainly see this Italian heroine who should be notably honored in our great City,” the Bishop said.
In addition, the Italian Apostolate of the Diocese of Brooklyn has organized a fundraising campaign to raise money to erect a statue in Mother Cabrini’s honor. Thus far, thousands of dollars have been donated.
The diocese is also working with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to have Mother Cabrini included in the She Built NYC program with a preference for having the statue constructed in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall.
It’s a project that must be accomplished. As Bishop DiMarzio reminds, “How important it is that we recognize the genius of women and their fortitude in a time when women were not easily recognized.”
What a sad day for New York City when a female leader such as Chirlane McCray fails to see the significance of honoring a woman like Mother Cabrini, who worked so hard to recognize the dignity and equality of all people. It’s a shame McCray couldn’t bring herself to do the same.
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